Damning verdict by Government inspector on Fenland Council’s refusal of 32 homes at Manea - and council must pay costs of appeal

Scubland at 28-30 High Street, Manea, which will be the site for 32 homes

Scubland at 28-30 High Street, Manea, which will be the site for 32 homes - Credit: Archant

Councillors who refused 32 homes at 28-30 High Street, Manea were described by a Government inspector as offering “unreasonable and untenable” reasons for turning the application down.

D M Young, who heard the appeal against the refusal, also awarded costs to the developers after claiming Fenland Council’s stance in relation to the appeal scheme to be “deeply troubling”.

He said there it was a fundamental principle of local decision making that a planning committee is not bound to follow the advice of its officers.

But there remained “a reasonable expectation that where this occurs it should show reasonable planning grounds for taking a contrary decision.” In this instance the minutes of the committee that determined the application “fail to identify any tangible reasons for rejecting the development”.

He said councillors had failed to identify any actual harm that would arise from the new housing – and for this reason found the council’s position to be unreasonable and untenable.

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In his costs judgement he said Fenland Council had not provided a credible explanation why it approach in this case was so contrasted with that in the Williams Way case.

He said councillors had erred in their approach and produced a decision that was “injudicious and relies on no more than vague and generalised assertions unsupported by analysis and evidence”.

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Mr Young concluded: “There is also strong evidence to suggest the council has not determined similar cases in a consistent manner.”

Developers PrimeTowers Ltd will now have their costs paid.

The application – first lodged in 2014 – finally went to committee last June with a recommendation by officers to approve it.

However Councillor Will Sutton had argued that the parish council had concluded the village could not take any more housing and there was a lack of infrastructure. He also argued that the community did not want the extra housing and Fenland Council should take not of that lack of support.

Councillor Peter Murphy said it was a scrub piece of land that would look better with development and queried whether members wanted a scrub piece of land or the area developed and tidied up.

Councillor Anne Hay said that it was imperative that up to date consultations are carried out with local councillors and asked what is the point of having consultation with the public if no notice is taken of it?

A report by consultants Curtin and Co showed that of 77 people who attended a public meeting and only 19 provided feedback. They reported that the majority “were unconcerned about the proposal and did not feel the need to provide feedback”.

Mr Young agreed the responses were “not suggestive of a significant level of objection or support” and noted other sites nearby had been approved by the council without demonstrable local support.

He also said the argument put forward – that it would exceed the 15 per cent growth threshold for Manea – was not relevant as this had been exceeded since 2011.

Mr Young said it was clear the council’s main objection was a perceived lack of local support.

“However it is highly unusual for any new housing scheme to be supported by the local community particularly where it would involve the loss of open land as is the case here,” he said.

Planning policies were concerned with land use in the public interest and the level of local objection was not in itself a reason for refusal.

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